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Asterisk Breeds A Cottage Industry 155

Posted by timothy
from the press-4-to-hear-monkeys-screaming dept.
gardel writes "The open-source PBX is popular, powerful and affordable. But setting up and maintaining Asterisk in its distributed form is a technical challenge for even the most accomplished of geeks. Now, Voxilla reports, several new companies (more than 60, at last count), smelling a good business opportunity, offer simplified graphical front-ends for Asterisk. And more are on the way."
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Asterisk Breeds A Cottage Industry

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  • by sfcat (872532)
    So does the PBX connect to a normal net line (T1) or can this do VOIP too? Also, what would the GUI do for monitoring, or is it just for configuration? Can you tap lines with it or reroute calls? Sounds like this could be fun.
    • Re:cool (Score:5, Informative)

      by mindstrm (20013) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @08:12PM (#12265093)
      It is primarily used for voip, actually, though handles leased lines (T1, E1, etc) perfectly well with supported hardware. Everything form $20 pots cards so you can use it as an answering machine at home to multiple T1 cards are supported... and lots of voip.

      You can do everything with it, but configuration is a lot of text files in true unix fashion.. it's more of a framework than a completed solution... which is what the article is about.. asterisk is really powerful, but setting up a complicated setup is sort of, well, complicated (though I find the complexity is about right for the level of flexibility)

    • Re:cool (Score:5, Informative)

      by cduffy (652) <charles+slashdot@dyfis.net> on Sunday April 17, 2005 @08:22PM (#12265144)
      WRT tapping lines and rerouting calls -- having just installed an Asterisk-based phone system at work, I find myself not informing the business-types of its full capabilities just for the sake of not making them nervous. Very, very cool stuff -- though we now have some extra dependencies involved in making the phones work, we also have a fully customizable (and largely customized), featureful phone system. As it is, we're tied into a T1 for the outside world and doing VoIP (IAX when we can and SIP when we can't) to talk to the phones themselves. Features on the TODO list include integration with the CRM system (to make a note whenever a customer calls one of us or visa-versa, for instance) -- nothing about it's hard, just time-consuming.

      Unfortunately, IP phones with quality full-duplex speakerphone support (unlike the otherwise excellent Sipura SPA-841s we're using) are *expensive*. (Know of a sub-$200 SIP phone with good speakerphone support? Let me know!)
      • Do you have a good speakerphone already for pots? Keep it and buy a Sipura 2000. It provides 2 lines and I bought one for $82 on eBay. At home, I have 2 normal cordless phones connected to it, and of course Asterisk running on a dedicated box. Good stuff.
        • Do you have a good speakerphone already for pots?

          No, I don't -- our phones were all owned by the folks we were subletting from in our last building. Even so, it's not exactly bad advice you're providing -- I'm fairly happy with the SPA-2000s we have already (for connecting our analog fax machines).
    • by johnnyb (4816)
      If you are using the plain telephone service, you can map an extension to ZapScan and listen to the outgoing/incoming calls, but not interoffice calls.

      We have ours so that if you dial 8000 first, your call will be recorded.

      You can also set it up to attempt to dial long distance via VoIP, but then go land line if the network is down.

      What's really cool, though, is the idea of just sticking an Asterisk box next to your webserver, and giving it a 1-800 number to have dial-in status updates.
  • Note (Score:3, Interesting)

    by elid (672471) <eli.ipod@gmail.cERDOSom minus math_god> on Sunday April 17, 2005 @08:09PM (#12265076)
    Note that not all of the solutions are open-source like PBX, although AMP is.
  • by oskard (715652) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @08:11PM (#12265089)
    The popular open-source PBX is popular

    No way really?
  • by netcrusher88 (743318) <netcrusher88&gmail,com> on Sunday April 17, 2005 @08:21PM (#12265137)
    A setup/administration GUI is what Red Hat sells(sold?), what SuSE sells, what Mandrake(or whatever it's called now), Xandros, and Linspire sell... This is probably a sign that Asterisk is here to stay. Or since we knew that already, that Asterisk not finished growing anytime soon.
  • This is cool... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Saint Aardvark (159009) * on Sunday April 17, 2005 @08:26PM (#12265159) Homepage Journal
    ...but what I would really like is an in-depth intro (contradiction in terms, I know) to telephone technology. I can set up a web server, I know how to firewall in three different languages, and I can understand at least a third of any C you put in front of me -- but man, phone technology just makes my head hurt.

    The company I work for is moving in a couple months, and we're taking the opportunity to upgrade our voicemail system. For a while I had hopes of maybe getting Asterisk to do it -- yay Free Software -- but then I started looking into it. As near as I can figure, after a day's Googling, our regular, analog, non-VOIP Meridian phones just won't talk to Asterisk-compatible hardware...but that's what I told the boss. (That, and I didn't have time to do it.)

    The honest truth is, I suspected it couldn't be done, or at least couldn't be done cheaply, but I couldn't wrap my head around what I was reading. I began to understand how my father feels when I try to explain to him what I'm doing.

    I have rarely felt so ignorant as when I tried to understand what hardware and what connections from the phone company would be needed:

    1. to connect Asterisk to the telephone company's wires (the CO, I think)
    2. to connect Asterisk to our own phones so calls could come in
    3. and to let us make phone calls out.
    I tried finding some consultant or company who could do this for us, but no luck. So we're getting a bigger and better version of the Norstar system we've got now. And that's fine -- it's done, someone else is doing it, and someone else is going to support it. But some kind of phone-networking-for-dummies would've been great.

    • Re:This is cool... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bluGill (862) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @08:38PM (#12265203)

      Write it yourself... VOIP is still young. Linux was really hard to install before slackware and the like came out. It wasn't easy until RedHat came along.

      In time VOIP will become easy, but for now you need to be willing to learn all the hard details. The best way to do this is setup a system at home. Until it is ready don't go live with it, but just start testing. Then write docs to help everyone else. A book would be nice. Once it is working and you understand it go live.

      Though outsourcing telephone often does make sense.

      • Re:This is cool... (Score:2, Informative)

        by jfb3 (25523)
        If he could write it himself he wouldn't need it. What he needs is something from somebody who ~already~ understand this. So do I.
        • Re:This is cool... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by femto (459605) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @09:05PM (#12265335) Homepage
          He is (and you are) the best person to write it.

          Someone who is learning as they go will be forced to write to the level of an inexperienced person, and will have a better idea than an experienced person of what newbies have difficulty with.

          Getting involved is not just for experienced people! Just jump in and have a go.

          The most important (and hardest) thing is to start writing. It doesn't have to be perfect, just force yourself to start and do the best you can at the time. Once you've finished the text, and understand things better, you can go back and correct any factual errors you may have made (or release it and let others correct it for you).

        • Re:This is cool... (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Doubt you'll be able to understand, say, QSIG, in time to connect your Asterisk to your Meridian (a dreadful, proprietary P.o.S., IMHO; no offence).

          It will be cheaper to buy some nice little SIP phones. You can get $1-$5 each for those nasty old Nortel 26xx's. Get rid of them now, before you have to pay somebody to haul them away.

          If you RTFA, you'll see some reference to companies who are making a business of installing Asterisk for businesses. If you follow some of the references, you'll find even more

    • Re:This is cool... (Score:3, Informative)

      by JM (18663)
      It's doable, and not that hard.

      The only thing to remember is that the Meridian phones are proprietary crap. So you can't just plug them into asterisk, but rather you'll have to
      plug your asterisk server between the phone lines that come from the phone company and your PBX.

      Then, expand your system by either buying some Sipura 2000 boxes and regular telephones, or some IP phones.

    • Re:This is cool... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bahwi (43111) <incoming.josephguhlin@com> on Sunday April 17, 2005 @08:59PM (#12265310) Homepage
      Yeah, one of the big problems with Asterisk is, even though it is a *nix program, it is not really a *nix program, but takes a *nix box and makes it into a very configurable PBX, not the other way around. It's great, but, uh, difficult.

      1. To connect to the telephone co, you'd need a T1 or ISDN PRI(Voice T1, not Data).
      2. Digium (digium.com) has hardware to connect it to regular phone lines, ditto for out.

      To connect to regular phones you need FXO ports, and to connect to outgoing phones you need FXS ports. Digium has hardware, and a few others. DLink has a good VoIP router(with QoS and everything).

      I'm slowly getting my stuff together to be a consultant for this stuff, but I've got a lot to learn myself. It's too big of a market, but coming together.

      You want a new PBX? Use Asterisk. You just need Voicemail? Asterisk. Want an IVR? Asterisk. Need a call center? Asterisk. Want to do call queuing? Asterisk. Need a predictive dialer? Asterisk.

      Holy crap, that just solved so many problems, but impossible to configure.
      • Re:This is cool... (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        To connect to regular phones you need FXO ports, and to connect to outgoing phones you need FXS ports.

        No, to connect to regular phones ("stations") you use FXS ("foreign exchange station") ports. FXO ("foreign exchange office") ports are for connecting to the phone company CO ("central office").
    • Re:This is cool... (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I currently use an asterisk system for my business from a company called switchvox. They just sent me a box I plug into my network and it works. It's simple for me and I'm willing to pay for that. Plus their support is really nice.

      It also allows me to have extensions that route to my sales person's phones at THEIR home. Our clients don't know any different and people get to work from home. There are a lot of features I don't use, but it saves us about $400/month on long distance calls and adding addit
      • We have to use analog lines for our incoming and outgoing lines because the VOIP providers are not caught up the reliability of asterisk.

        Well, think about how VoIP works... Your reliability issues may not be due to the VoIP terminiation/origination providers at all. It may have a LOT more to do with your Internet connectivity. You don't say what you're using, but (e.g.) expecting a consumer-class cable connection to reliably give you the crystal-clear call quality of POTS is unrealistic.

        Hell, I've see
    • Re:This is cool... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Rafke (22542)
      I advice you to subscribe to the asterisk users mailing list and read it for some time. It has a surprising mix of pros and newbies.

      Asterisk-Users mailing list [digium.com]

    • So we're getting a bigger and better version of the Norstar system we've got now.
      My company ditched Norstar and went with Cisco VoIP phones and phone servers. There's your solution.
    • Telephony For Computer Professionals, by Janet Laino... Amazon link here [amazon.com].

      Excellent resource for this very purpose, and the fact that it predates VoIP means that you can compartmentalize the one technology from the other (first understand what you mean to emulate, then understand the emulation).

    • I tried finding some consultant or company who could do this for us, but no luck.

      Did you try the Bristol Group [bg.com]? (I don't work there or have ownership interest -- just a reasonably satisfied customer).
    • I'm in the same boat. I'm currently doing elearning for a call center. I'd love to be able to integrate Moodle with the system so we could push content based on call volume. There are some ASP scripts out there that may be able to do this, but I don't know enough about what kind of resources to ask for, and I don't want to screw up the business end of the business.

      I think that Knowlagent offers the functionality but it's expensive as heck. Avaya\Lucent might have their own solutions... but noone seems to w
    • Re:This is cool... (Score:4, Informative)

      by geggo98 (835161) on Monday April 18, 2005 @04:29AM (#12267390) Homepage
      It's easy to connet Asterisk to your Telco's line. Just use a standard ISDN-Card or a modem. To connect your internal devices is a little bit more tricky. You can find appropiate hardware on http://www.digium.com/ [digium.com] or http://www.junghanns.net/ [junghanns.net].
      Background: You can't connect two ISDN devices or two modems with some kind of cross cable witout some additional tricks. To drive analog phones, you need a modem card with FXS support, for ISDN telephones, the card must support the NT-mode. E.g. the Junghanns QuadBRI card support NT and can drive up to 4 ISDN lines. The Wildcard TDM400P supports FXS can drive four analog devices. Both run fine with Asterisk.

      Acronyms:
      FXS: Foreinge Exchange Subscriber
      NT: Network Trminator

    • Re:This is cool... (Score:4, Informative)

      by LWATCDR (28044) on Monday April 18, 2005 @10:55AM (#12269414) Homepage Journal
      1. POTS lines will work. You will need an FX0 card per line. Not practical if you need a lot of lines. There are some multi Line FXO cards available. FX0=Hook up to telephone lines. There is a flavor of Intel Modem that will work as a single Line FXO card. They are pretty cheap and would be a good way to build a cheap test or home system.

      2. To hook up just plain old phones to Asterisk you need FXS cards. FXS= hook phones up to Asterisk.
      Or you can get VoIP phones and hook them up to a 100BaseT or 1000BaseT network. I will probably also want to use a power inserter so you can have power over ethernet or PoE. That way the phones will get their power over the network connection and will not have to have a wall wart.
      Or you can use a softphone. A softphone is a program that runs under Windows, Linux, BSD, PalmOS, WinCE, or the Mac that uses your computers soundcard as a telephone.
      Your best place to look is the VoIP Wiki http://www.voip-info.org/tiki-index.php [voip-info.org].
      Another good site is the Asterisk@Home project http://asteriskathome.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net]. It is a Linux/Asterisk distro. Pop it in and you get an Asterisk box. Warning! This is NOT a live CD. It will reformat your hard drive and install Linux and Asterisk on it.
  • by Husgaard (858362) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @08:27PM (#12265160)
    This is some heavy reinventing of the wheel.

    Most of these solutions are proprietary, and probably will die as 2-3 FOSS solutions gets generally accepted.

    But these 60 companies will probably prosper anyway, with supplying consultancy and support for what I think is the most successful FOSS project ever in it's application domain.

    • by bahwi (43111) <incoming.josephguhlin@com> on Sunday April 17, 2005 @09:02PM (#12265326) Homepage
      Asterisk is too complex, I think it'd be more around 10-20 FOSS solutions that would be generally accepted, but the need for proprietary systems in this industry is huge(or good UI FOSS projects, which rarely if ever exist). The manager, who has no clue what the difference between a CPU and a monitor is, needs to be able to configure the phones. And it's gotta be from IE.
      • Dial plans look like regular expressions, and even the folks with the pretty GUIs don't change that, because you'd basically need to invent another visual programming language to GUIfy them, and those suck.

        Programming moderately-advanced user-driven functionality like letting users dial an extension to [arbitrary example] change call forwarding numbers, or [other arbitrary example] rerecord voice prompts -- is actually programming. The steps for validating that the user is who they ought to be, or coming f
        • by Anonymous Coward
          Meh. What utter nonsense. PBX technicians take a 2-week course to learn how to do that stuff.

          This kind of FUD from the Telecom industry and their flunkies in Telecom departments has been going on since Alexander Graham Bell built the first Telecom monopoly. It's like IT was in the 70's - relatively simple stuff, obfuscated with all kinds of scary mumbo-jumbo.

          All you need is the patience to understand the scary mumbo-jumbo. You'll find the whole Telecom industry is built on ideas and technology from the

          • First: I'm not saying it's hard. I'm saying it's too hard for my manager, who hasn't taken a 2-week course. (I taught myself in less than two weeks -- but for my manager, who is extremely busy with his job of managing stuff, even two days is an unthinkably long amount of time to devote to learning a technical skill).

            Second: I'm not speaking of PBX systems in general; I'm speaking of Asterisk in particular. Your 1960s ideas-and-technology PBX isn't going to have any sort of ability to decide to route a call
  • Who needs a GUI? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zmanea (656739)
    If a GUI is so important wouldnt Cisco have one for their routers/switches? Setting up extensions in Asterisk is no harder than setting up an access list on a router. If you need a GUI then maybe you should not be doing it.
    • It's not so hard ... I prefer the command line BUT
      to answer your question cisco has/does supply MANY MANY graphical tools to configure their switches and routers

      also .... the best gui that I have seen so far is the one on the system put out by switchvox.com ... not free though

      I am using asterisk in my home as well. I am running it on a soekris box (soekris.com) from a compact flash card. I have an nfs mount to my fileserver for my voicemail
    • You do realize that most Cisco routers and switches these days do have at least an HTTP GUI built in. Then of course, there are the top-dollar "network management" applications like Cisco Works which in turn plug into Network Management Systems like Tivoli and Unicenter, all GUI. But, you knew that right.

      Setting up extensions in asterisk is rather simple, once you know how to do it in Asterisk. But, if your more knowledgeable in Nortel's BCM GUI or their Meridian command line, you are likely to be lost wit
    • Command line interface (CLI) is the way to go for real PBX systems. There is no GUI out there that really takes advantage of all the features of what Asterisk can do. And if you do need a gui to do something, chances are, you shouldn't be running your own PBX.
      • unless of course you need the functionality that a PBX provides and cannot afford the technical expertise to have it done all 1337 and stuff
      • Command line interface (CLI) is the way to go for real PBX systems. There is no GUI out there that really takes advantage of all the features of what Asterisk can do. And if you do need a gui to do something, chances are, you shouldn't be running your own PBX.

        I guess it really depends on your skills and how much time you want to spend with the phone system. I personally prefer to work in GUI's for most things, as it saves me time from remembering obscure options and switches for hundreds of config files
    • by datafr0g (831498)
      A system administrator who's managing a network that contains a vast number of voice & data routing devices would probably prefer a GUI.
      Also the receptionist who is asked to add new users to the PBX would be lost in a world of shit if she didn't have a GUI.
    • Just because you can tickle the keys, doesn't mean you should have to. Actually, Cisco knows this and does have GUI software for much of their hardware configuration and it is ever so much faster than typing over one thousand lines of code every time and yes, I've typed that many on a Cisco router before. I thought my fingers would bleed and my eyes fall out.

      You cannot overestimate the chances of keyboard typos either when the user has to type in that much. One wrong entry not caught and the config s
    • by Nashville Guy (585073) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @09:13PM (#12265370) Journal
      I see there are a few CLI purists in this thread, and I understand their point. Granted, a GUI adds bloat. It isn't as pure. And yes, major PBX systems like Meridian are all CLI.

      On the other hand, GUI's are a blessing for people that are smart enough to know what needs to happen but who might need a reminder or two to hit every config point. When I can see an option in a GUI panel versus having to juggle 60 or so config files in my mind I am a lot better off.

      My guess is that most FOSS folks here are on the data and not voice networking side. Conversely, I just got done overseeing a T1 circuit install for a customer move and had an opportunity to talk with the PBX guy. I mentioned Asterisk and got a blank look in return.

      If a GUI would help spur adoption of this technology by making it a tad easier to use for us data types, I am all for it.
      • Re:Who needs a GUI? (Score:4, Informative)

        by houghi (78078) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @10:00PM (#12265632)
        And yes, major PBX systems like Meridian are all CLI.

        I used to work on a Aspect phonesystem that has the complete callflow in a GUI kind of way. Just drag and drop the different steps and you were done.

        Although not completely easy, it is a lot easier to do on more complicated callflows. A lot easier then working on a sort of basic where you needed much more knowledge on another system.

        Another advatages was that you could inform both management and people what happend in a phonecall by just doing a printout and follow the system. Also very easy to addept if waiting times are too long, when there are hollidays or to insert emergency messages.

        Perhaps not needed if all you need is a message when you are closed and an aswering service for those that are not in. It will become handy if you have several numbers recieving larger amounts of numbers from different sources fr different reasons with different priorities.

        Or even first start with one number and then want to insert extra possibilaties as your company grows, without having the need for a programmer.

        I am in Belgium so what we had was naturlay first language choice, then department choice, then depending on the department another extra choice, then connection to the different people if they were in, otherwise to others. All depending on the language skills of the people as well.

        e.g. see that if the person had a question about his bill that he would not be connected to the reception.

        A lot more choices and options were involved and we were working on even more.
      • I like a GUI when I have not worked with the program set in CLI recently. I tend to have to wear many hats and am horid at taking (and reading my own) notes. So a GUI lets me get the job done when I have forgoten the commands and their @ARGV.

        If I have recent knowledge of the program sets operation then I like a CLI. Also I find that when I am learning a system CLI tends to expose the isues that I have wrong and the error messages are right in your face so you tend to get to the bottom of the problem.

        A
    • ah-eumh ... surely csco doesn't have a GUI on routers, href="http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/473/61.htm l #createclusters">switches [cisco.com] , pix [cisco.com], call mngr express [cisco.com]
    • Oh, but the Cisco solution for VoIP (ICCM) is windows based and indeed has GUIs (for routing script writing and IVR scripts)... ...and you know what? They suck very badly.

      Not to mention their GUI installers.

      And their web-based admin GUIs.

      Or their GUI to administer the system... but somehow I don't think we'll see a good alternative soon (read, it's proprietary and locked down). OTOH, GUIs for Asterisk are numerous. GOOD!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 17, 2005 @08:42PM (#12265216)
    Asterisk is a FOSS PBX (private branch exchange) and Voice over IP gateway. The PBX part means that you have phones on your desks that don't connect to the real phone lines unless you want to dial out of the company. The VOIP gateway means that it can talk to SIP and H323 systems, as well as having its own protocol, IAX. Most of the useful features require extra hardware, called FXO and FXS cards. These cards allow it to talk to the phone company lines and to talk to the phones on the desk. Without the extra hardware, you just have a computer that can talk to software phones and take voice mail. You cannot just use regular modems. It is very flexible, and if you have two or three offices, it can save you long distance charges by routing those calls over the internet. This is just a basic idea of what it can do, it what Asterisk is used for. Check out "Asterisk at home" for a fairly simple installation that includes a good web interface.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      If you get your outgoing line from a VoIP provider such as Vonage, Packet8 or Broadvoice, you don't need any hardware for the outgoing side of Asterisk. If you don't, you only need a card that costs $6.85 + shipping on ebay.

      For the stations, you either need an FXS card (about $100 per extension) or an IP phone (about $70 per phone) or a headset and software phone (about $10 per extension). Since most people aren't satisfied with the pure software phones, it's the hardware cost per extension that matters.
  • Will it take off? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by datafr0g (831498) <.datafrog. .at. .gmail.com.> on Sunday April 17, 2005 @08:47PM (#12265251) Homepage
    It wasn't long ago (still is in some parts) that PBX tech was primarily proprietory software running on expensive proprietory hardware.

    As most PBX manufacturers are moving towards converged networks, VoIP, etc - more and more focus is being placed on Software and standards making these systems cheaper and cheaper.

    Asterisk will have a lot of competition in the small biz market. I really love the technology, and think the project's fantastic, but if I were running a business and looking to purchase a PBX, I'd probably stear clear of Asterisk.
    Purely because the Telephone System is the communications hub of most businesses. It's the one thing you don't expect to go down - so reliability is critical. There's no vendor backup, etc - same with most Open Source software, and while that wouldn't be an issue with most other applications - PBX's are a different kettle of fish.

    I really hope it works out and at a minimum, hopefully it'll draw PBX costs down, but as the vendor based systems cost is currently very low and given that the margins for support, etc are also low in this field, I don't expect too much from the biz side of these things.

    HOWEVER, if someone can translate the tech into something that can really save a business money and they can garuntee uptime, then they'll do well.
    • Re:Will it take off? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by The_Morgan (89220)
      I can't imagine that you have actually priced out a 'vendor' system. They are anything but low priced. After being quoted 20 grand for a 15-20 phone system and being told that support costs will be outragous, you would do exactly what my boss did.

      Keep the ancient system that was fried by lighting. God knows the PC tech will keep the system limping along 15 years past its due date.
      • Unless that pricing also includes some fancy sofware addon or design, you're being ripped off.

        There are small systems capable of doing the same sort of thing as Asterisk, if not more for around $1000-$2000 for that number of users.
    • There's no vendor backup

      Of course there is, if you buy it from a vendor -- and there are plenty of them out there. Even with a 3rd party providing pretested hardware, service/support, etc, the price is vastly lower than the proprietary competition. Need uptime? There are plenty of failover technologies out there, and no good excuse (other than the cost of having extra hardware and connectivity) for not using them.

      Sure, using Asterisk means you have the option of going the cheap way out -- it doesn't mean
    • Re:Will it take off? (Score:4, Informative)

      by smallpaul (65919) <paulNO@SPAMprescod.net> on Sunday April 17, 2005 @11:26PM (#12266172)

      Purely because the Telephone System is the communications hub of most businesses. It's the one thing you don't expect to go down - so reliability is critical.

      Do you have some inside knowledge that indicates that Asterisk is unreliable? I hadn't heard that.

      There's no vendor backup, etc - same with most Open Source software, and while that wouldn't be an issue with most other applications - PBX's are a different kettle of fish.

      I don't know what you mean by "vendor backup". If you buy a Asterisk-based solution then it is backed by your solution provider. They have access to the source code in the same way that a proprietary software vendor has access to the source code. On the other hand, unlike the situation with a proprietary software vendor, there is competition between solution providers with equal access to the source code.

      It's the one thing you don't expect to go down - so reliability is critical.

      Google.com and Amazon.com are both based in large part on open source software. Would you say that reliability is not "critical" for their websites?

      I'm by no means an open source zealot (I write proprietary software) but I can't let illogic just pass by. There is some highly reliable open source software and some highly reliable proprietary software. And there is some crappy open source and proprietary software out there.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    "gardel writes "The open-source PBX is popular, powerful and affordable. But setting up and maintaining Asterisk in its distributed form is a technical challenge for even the most accomplished of geeks. "

    Translation: If you want to make money with OSS? Make it complicated, and difficult to use.
  • I'm a Linux noob and even I setup Asterisk@Home successfully. I bought a $6 Digium FXO card signed up with FWDout and off we go for free worldwide phone service.
  • I've been looking for a solution to a call center related problem. Besides the fact of leaving a 'written' (database driven) register of all incoming calls (day and hour, who called and who answered the call, and the subject of it), I'd like to record the whole call and attach it to its register. Privacy statements apart (users who call would be welcomed by a greeting which says that the call could be saved in order to improve QA and such), I've been wondering at this problem some time now and perhaps Aster
    • You are on the right track. The Call Detail Records (CDR) are comprehensive and there are packages to analyse them. I am also using a Call Accounting package that does costing by groups of extensions.

      Call Monitoring, the recordsing of each call tot he ahrddrive is a native application and I am about to implement for a stock trading company I am working with.
      Asterisk is stable, powerful and free. If you are using IP phones and routing all calls through a VOIP provider, all you need is a linux server. I you
  • by Colin E. McDonald (837162) on Sunday April 17, 2005 @09:11PM (#12265357) Homepage
    Rolled out an Asterix PBX this weekend. Snom 360 IP POE phones connected to Fedora Core 3
    box (HP DC 7100) with two Digium FXO cards. VoIP from the desk sets to server then outbound PSTN
    (Public Switched Telephone Network). Used the Asterisk Management Portal front-end GUI so the
    local users could have complete control over the management of the system. All I can say is....sweet.
    • If you'd be so kind as to share some info... This is a question I cannot get an answer for: As per your case, can more than two outbound, inbound or combination thereof calls be made at any one time?
      So the 360 users only need two PSTN lines to handle all in and out calls? Meaning 100 people can, say, all call out at the same time using only two PSTN lines? If so, that very cool! Thanks!
    • ...local users could have complete control over the management of the system.

      Dear God No!

  • In it's death-throws PBX attempts to be user friendly. VoIP laughs while twisting the knife and requesting additional funding. Several trunks cry.
  • by Rob from RPI (4309) <xrobau@gmail.com> on Sunday April 17, 2005 @09:23PM (#12265433) Homepage
    the most important and popular Asterisk site. Specifically, voip-info [voip-info.com] - a wiki where you'll find documentation on everything you'd like to know about Asterisk and various ways of administering it.

    I'm doing the Documentation for AMP [coalescentsystems.ca] which is probably (IMO) the best admin tool, and it's what is used for 99% of the administration of Asterisk@Home [sourceforge.net]. AMP is rapidly becoming more than just a basic interface to Asterisk tho - the current CVS handles LCR, ZAP Trunks (eg, physical connections to the PSTN via ISDN or normal 2-wire FXO/FXS), Call Groups, Inbound call queues with everything you'd expect ("Your call is 4th in the queue. Your expected wait time is 3 minutes"). The current CVS of Asterisk, when used with AMP, gives you attended transfers, call (audio) recording, and a whole pile of other stuff.

    Probably the best thing for someone new to VoIP is to get the latest version of Asterisk@Home (which is 0.9 at the time of this post) and an old machine, a couple of soft-phones (VoIP software that lets you make calls from your PC using your sound card) and a FWD [fwdnet.net] number and start playing.

    Feel free to leave me voicemail on my FWD number - 47876 - if you have any questions or comments!

    --Rob
    • by Anonymous Coward
      voip-info.org, I think, although it's slashdotted. voip-info takes you to something in german.
    • Crap. Wrong link (Score:3, Informative)

      by Rob from RPI (4309)
      That should be voip-info.org. I'm so used to mozilla just auto-completing, I type 'voip' and push enter in my address bar - I don't think about the top domain. (Annoyed Grunt).

      However, voip-info has been having significant performance issues, so I think that *not* linking to it was a good idea. It looks like it's been slashdotted just by having the VoIP meme high in the geek global awareness.

      --Rob
  • asteriskathome.sourceforge.net

    to hell with the pay versions. *@home has an awesome web frontend and allows you to do the manual magic that no pbx on the planet can even think of doing.

    the hard part is finding sip phones that have fully programmable buttons that dont cost you 2 arms and 3 legs.
  • Corrected links... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Rob from RPI (4309) <xrobau@gmail.com> on Sunday April 17, 2005 @09:54PM (#12265595) Homepage
    The above article forgets to link to the most important and popular Asterisk site. Specifically, voip-info [voip-info.org] - a wiki where you'll find documentation on everything you'd like to know about Asterisk and various ways of administering it.

    I'm doing the Documentation for AMP [coalescentsystems.ca] which is probably (IMO) the best admin tool, and it's what is used for 99% of the administration of Asterisk@Home [sourceforge.net]. AMP is rapidly becoming more than just a basic interface to Asterisk tho - the current CVS handles LCR, ZAP Trunks (eg, physical connections to the PSTN via ISDN or normal 2-wire FXO/FXS), Call Groups, Inbound call queues with everything you'd expect ("Your call is 4th in the queue. Your expected wait time is 3 minutes"). The current CVS of Asterisk, when used with AMP, gives you attended transfers, call (audio) recording, and a whole pile of other stuff.

    Probably the best thing for someone new to VoIP is to get the latest version of Asterisk@Home (which is 0.9 at the time of this post) and an old machine, a couple of soft-phones (VoIP software that lets you make calls from your PC using your sound card) and a FWD [fwdnet.net] number and start playing.

    Feel free to leave me voicemail on my FWD number - 47876 - if you have any questions or comments!

    --Rob
  • by syslog (535048) <naeem@ba[ ]cc ['ri.' in gap]> on Sunday April 17, 2005 @11:05PM (#12266057)
    We develop some highly sophisticated field services software (GPS tracking, jobs sent to phones, black boxes, GIS etc etc). One of our key modules is "Call Ahead". When a cable guy, for example, completes installation at customer A, our software automatically calls the next customer on his job list, informing them that the cable guy is on his way, and will be there in x minutes. We do this via Asterisk (obviously). We charge our client (the cable company in this example) a small fee per call. If not for asterisk, we would have had to use some proprietery solution from Avaya, Intertel Tech etc, along with service from a carrier like MCI or SBC etc. This would have cost BIG dollars. We could not have provided our clients with an economical solution. This is a perfect example of open source enabling a business that could not happen otherwise.

    Asterisk is a really extremely full featured high-end telco switch. The configurations is a little painful, but the quality is superb.

    naeem

    Agilis Systems [agilissystems.com]

  • I've been using a new reporting engine for asterisk and love it! Our old PBX is going to be a boat anchor in a month. It's from a small company called Somix and it's called Plumtrack (I have no clue what the "plum" means :))
    Our company luckily has a geek that knows whats up.
    http://www.somix.com/products/plumtrack.php [somix.com]
    Asterisk ROCKS!
  • by ashitaka (27544) on Monday April 18, 2005 @12:04AM (#12266362) Homepage
    Since the API is really open and can call your own little procedures in just about whatever script language you want makes for some really wild features being added to the Asterisk world that mystify traditional PBX people. Things like quick routing to voicemail or somewhere else based upon your AIM logged-in status.

    The possibilities are huge.

    I've just started cataloguing [fastriver.com] some of the more creative ones.
  • I wonder if there's a market for combining a VOIP service like Vonage, with a customizable hosted service like Salesforce.com. That way, all the customer needs is a reliable net connection and a bunch of IP phones (or POTS phones with POTS to IP connectors). If everything's configurable via a web interface, why does the Asterisk server need to be at each office? A VOIP services company could just host a cluster of Asterisk servers with multiple businesses on it.

    Network QoS and voicemail security would be

  • by mamladm (867366) on Monday April 18, 2005 @04:48AM (#12267446) Homepage
    Unfortunately, this article lends yet more support to those who like to dismiss Asterisk based on the cliche that it can only be handled by hard core Linux geeks.

    Sure, if you want to use Asterisk to its full potential, then you have to learn a thing or two. But that isn't any different from any other tool, be it Apache, IIS, Oracle, PeopleSoft, Siebel, InDesign, Photoshop, Bryce, Final Cut, etc etc etc.

    The important thing however is that you can get started with Asterisk very easily and without any special skillset.

    The article doesn't mention anything about the fact that you can download an Asterisk installer for MacOS X along with a few configuration wizards and have a running PBX within a few minutes. It also doesn't mention that there is a similar Asterisk installer for Windows. At present, the Mac is the easiest platform to set up a basic PBX with Asterisk, but it shouldn't be too long before there will be configuration wizards for Asterisk on Windows, too.

    Asterisk for MacOS X: http://www.sunrise-tel.com/ [sunrise-tel.com]

    Asterisk for Windows: http://www.asteriskwin32.com/ [asteriskwin32.com]

    How can we expect decision makers in companies to consider Asterisk if it is always presented as a Linux toy which requires Linux gurus to set up and run. That's precisely the kind of perception the incumbent proprietary system vendors love to promote when they pinch their overpriced stuff.

    Let those people know that Asterisk is multi-platform and have them play with it on their platform of choice and there will soon be more mainstream deployments and more ease of use front ends.

    Other than for Linux, Asterisk is so far available for FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, DragonflyBSD and Irix (both through the NetBSD package manager), MacOSX/Darwin, Windows and Solaris. Zaptel drivers (to use telephony interface cards) are available or in the works for FreeBSD, NetBSD, MacOSX and Solaris. If that doesn't deserve mentioning in an article about an Asterisk cottage industry, then I don't know what does.
    • I agree with your point. In any case, it isn't for Linux geeks, it is for Asterisk geeks.

      If you have ever tried configuring a real PBX, i.e, more than 8 lines, you will find it rather unfriendly to the casual user. Even small PBX systems can be far from easy when you start to get feature rich.

      In fact, having seen the configs they use for big PBX systems, Asterisk with its wizards is definitely easier!

  • 1. I've heard lots about Asterisk - and understand that it can be used as a PBX for a small-medium sized enterprise... and that it supports tailored voicemail etc. I am interested in a far smaller scale scenario. I have one land-line; one ADSL line and one mobile phone (with a number for which I can divert phone calls wherever I choose.) I want to manage calls in a more effective way... Ideally all my calls would arrive at my server - and depending upon time of day; caller ID; my location (at desk; at
    • There's probably no need to get that fancy. Get a vonage account. It's 25 bucks a month for unlimited calling. It comes with a router that has voip ports preconfigured for your account (and you cannot access the SIP credentials, unfortunately). Plug a cordless telephone into it for your home use. That takes care of question 2. The caller-id info is in the call data, so your cordless phone will show you who is calling just like normal. As for the other point from question 1, you can't get this sort of
      • While I understand your suggestions - I guess because this is a "home" project (rather than a business one) I'm willing to put in much more time tinkering - but less cash into the deal... For example - while I accept that a provider like Vonage is likely to be "worth" $25/month to a heavy user it is certainly not worth that to me... that subscription figure exceeds my private expenditure on outgoing calls twofold!
        I hope to use Skype in conjunction with my mobile and existing land-line (on which I have ADSL
        • You won't be able to use Skype, as they do not have an open protocol, and there is no way to connect to it via Asterisk.

          You can use Nufone (http://www.nufone.net) at $0.019 per minute (cheaper than SkypeOut anyway) to accomplish the same thing.

          Other than that, it shouldn't be that hard to do, and the other person that replied has it set up already.

          Jeremy
          • Hmmm - that's sort-of news about Skype... I never really cared about "skype-out" like functionality - as I can probably influence at least software choices with those who need cheap communications with my setup.
            I guess if I were to have an "Asterisk PBX" then I would be able to interact over the internet with other "Askerisk PBX" setups. (Wouldn't I?) All that would remain then would be some sort of directory service... does such a facility exist? (Yet?)
            • There are several people offering a bounty on a Skype channel for Asterisk, but as of yet nothing is available.

              As far as other directories, there are several out there. Free World Dialup is one run by Jeff Pulver, http://www.fwdnet.net is the address for that one. There is also IAXTel, which is mainly used to test IAX functionality.

              The cool thing about FWD is it uses standard SIP and/or IAX peering, so any SIP compatible device can be used. This means soft phones, hardware IP phones, gateway routers, W
            • If you were to run your own Asterisk server, you can always tell all your friends to download Firefly from http://www.virbiage.com/ [virbiage.com] which is a software phone not unlike the Skype client software, but instead of a closed proprietary protocol it supports SIP and IAX.

              Your friends will then be able to call you directly on your Asterisk server and you will be able to call them on their softphone, all free of charge.

              If they have their PC on a public IP address, SIP is OK, if they are behind a NAT (private IP ad
    • I have got precisely the setup you describe on my Asterisk server and I am happy to share the configuration. Can you send me a private message through Slashdot?

      In a nutshell here is what's involved ...

      1) hook up your PSTN line to your Asterisk server

      you do this either to a so called FXO port on an internal telephony interface card, the simplest one of which is an ordinary fax modem card which costs you 8 USD (any PCI modem with the Ambient MD3200 chipset will do) or you use an external VoIP gateway (phon
  • Mobilix was sued (and lost) in Germany because its name vaguely looked liked obelix, a character from a french comic book named asterix. Go figure ...
    The ugly part of that is that those characters are gaule warriors fighting the evil over-organised
    over-bureaucratic roman empire and that I learned to read with those comics books.
    Stupid greedy uderzo.
  • at work and I have a new-found respect for the PBX manufacturers that I used to curse. I'll never forget, we got the pots line talking to the zap trunk and the phone would actually ring when someone called!!! You have no idea of the ego deflation factor when I proudly told our first caller that I would transfer him, hit the transfer button and hung up on him.

    One thing that it has opened my eyes to are the possibilities of SIP. We needed a seperate phone line and, after some looking, decided to go with b
  • powerful and affordable

    Powerful = Usable. Obviously this system is not that, which is why 60 companies are trying to make it powerful and usable.

  • I've been wanting something that lets me pick up my phone at home, the problem with asterisk is that its designed to get the phone directly plugged in to it and everything else plugs in to that. I'm just wondering if theres anything I can use thats simpler than a full featured PBX
    • I think what you mean to say is that you would like to pick up an incoming call to your PSTN line at home while you are somewhere else, having the incoming call delivered to your via VoIP.

      If so, this is quite straightforward. You could buy a little box called an FXO gateway. It's got at least one phone jack for connecting to a POTS line on one end and an Ethernet jack for connecting to a VoIP client on the other end. One of the most popular devices is probably the Sipura-3000.

      The Sipura-3000 is actually a

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